Figure of Aiyannar, bronze, maker unknown, South India, late Chola period, 1100-1300
Small bronze figure of Aiyannar sitting in the relaxed rajalilasana position on a modern wooden base with the left leg drawn up and the right leg hanging free. The left arm rests on the left knee and the right arm is held away from the body with the forearm raised and holding an elephant goad. Aiyannar wears a large earring in his left ear and ornaments around neck, arms, legs and ankles while a girdle holds the draperies. The hair fans out from the head.
The figure would once have been seated on an elephant, now missing.
This small bronze figure represents Aiyannar (or Aiyanar, also known as Arya or Hariharaputra or Sasta), a tutelary Tamil deity of South India who is the guardian of the land. He was adopted into the Hindu assemblage of deities as the son of the Hindu God Siva and of Mohini (a female form of Vishnu), which was probably an attempt to combine the Saiva and Vaisnava cults.
The figure is part of a collection of forty-one Indian bronze miniatures assembled by the donor. The figures were made in India over a period spanning eleven hundred years, and were produced for use in temples or in household shrines and by pilgrims.
As an example of Hindu iconography, this image represents one of the worlds great and ancient religious traditions. Hinduism is as much a philosophy and culture as it is a religion, a rich and complex aggregate which has drawn on a collection of holy books and incorporated a wide range of influences since its origins around 4000 years ago. The multiple deities, demi-gods and heroes of the Hindu pantheon and Hindu literature reflect the syncretistic nature of Hinduism in their diverse forms and complex lineages, and are represented in a magnificent corpus of figurative sculptures, large and small.
These images were intended to remind people of spiritual truths and sacred stories and to function as aids to meditation. They follow forms and dimensions that are carefully prescribed for each deity, and all parts and attributes such as the position of the body, the emblems and ornaments, and the accompanying minor divinities have significance.
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